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Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers

By: Laurentius Laurentii, 1660-1722
Rejoice, rejoice, believers, And let your lights appear;
The evening is advancing, And darker night is near.
The bridegroom is arising And soon is drawing nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle; At midnight comes the cry.

The watchers on the mountain Proclaim the bridegroom near;
Go forth as He approaches With alleluias clear.
The marriage feast is waiting; The gates wide open stand.
Arise, O heirs of glory; The bridegroom is at hand.

The saints, who here in patience Their cross and sufferings bore,
Shall live and reign forever When sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory The Lamb they shall behold;
In triumph cast before Him Their diadems of gold.

Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, O Sun so longed for, Over this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted, We plead, O Lord, to see
The day of earth’s redemption That sets Your people free!

And so it begins–at the end.

At 24, he was an old man, and that was fine as he was a sergeant. With age comes authority. And he had used that age, most famously to ignore the order of the captain who had instructed him to put gas maks on the mules not the men.

Not that he told many stories about the out the war once it was over.  The gas mask story only came out when the captain came by his home, long after the war, and he had had  his wife send the captain away.  He had to tell her why, he,  the genial lover of humanity,  hated the man so much.

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There had of course been a war.  The pictures showed  him posed with  young men and an even younger boy on a blasted landscape.  France, we were told, but for us it looked more like something brought to you by Warner Brothers pictures.  There was the occasional memento, the  almost  obligatory 75 mm shell turned into a vase for flowers–the sword beaten into the plowshare.

But the stories that he did tell made the war sound like an endless lark fueled by potato sandwiches and doughnuts, particularly the free doughnuts offered by the Salvation Army. Another organization, we were told, had CHARGED the boys for a doughnut and coffee but the Salvation Army had given them for free.

Such was his gratitude for what “the Army”, the other army, had done for him  that my grandmother  would organize fund drives for the Salvation Army years later.  The priest was not sympathetic, threatening her with excommunication until (it was rumored) her sister-in-law–who by all rights should at least be beatified–had what was surely a very spiritual chat with the bishop. Excommunication was not mentioned again, and the fund drivers continued.

So when you run on Dunkin today and get your free doughnut. (In memory of my grandfather it would be yeast glazed, to be eaten precisely with a knife and fork, preferably at a counter).  Or you kruise by Krispy Kreme to get a freebie, or load up on the bourbon butterscotch brioche with bacon, remember that National Doughnut Day isn’t here to celebrate the stomach, but  rather the heart.  Show some heart and consider dropping what you would have spent  on your stomach into the red kettle. Thank you.

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Speculaas for Nicholas

Yes indeed, it is again the Feast of St. Nicholas, one of my favorite lesser festivals, which I generally celebrate by getting up ridiculously early, having long wittering Prussian conversations with myself about gift distribution , and shoot (or crawl as the case sometimes is) about the Metro area with cookies and toys to drop on (not so) random doorsteps (and windshields).  I also break Advent and listen to Christmas music.  And eat chocolate…. And meat.  So there.

Other people seem to enjoy it as well. (For more on Nicholas check out the previous posting.)

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“Are the coins real or chocolate?” asked the youth. “Chocolate,” said his mother. “Oh, ” he said thoughtfully, “Well, that’s cool too.”

Shoes are fascinating!

 

 

 

 

On Puddings

Reblogged from Notanda

Well, it is the first Sunday in Advent as I write this, so I hope that the Christmas pudding that you boiled on Stir-Up Sunday is now aging happily, safe from rodents–particularly squirrels, who seem to have a mad passion for suet.

Suet in Excelsis

Suet in Excelsis

What’s that you say? The previous sentence was almost unintelligible?  You have no idea of what I write?  You are unacquainted with that most magnificent feature of English cookery?

Well!

Let the late Patrick O’Brian, in whose novels puddings feature in gluttonous abundance, explain the magnificence of the pudding race (to paraphrase the poet Burns).  Dividing the genus of puddings into three parts, he touches on the herb-pudding, a sort of super-dumpling designed to fill a large family before the meat arrives; second, those puddings which are eaten as the main part of the meal, such creations as haggis, or steak and kidney pudding; and finally, those served after the meat has been cleared.  This is what Americans might call dessert; but the English–those free of Americanisms–properly refer to that course as pudding, synonymously with their great creation. O’Brian explains the paragon of that name thusly:

[Pudding is]…the end and the crown of a dinner, reaching its apotheosis at Christmas, when the plum-pudding, a wonderful mixture of dried currants, raisins, rum, candied peel, spices, small silver charms, and of course the essential suet, comes to the table, blazing with brandy and topped with holly. Second only to that of Christmas we find a series of others, all founded upon that happy marriage of flour (two parts), suet (one part) and sugar consummated in a cloth or basin surrounded by boiling water. In Spotted Dog, for example, the dough is liberally sprinkled with fine bold currants and the cloth is tied tight, so that when the pudding is turned out on the dish its exterior is firm and relatively dry; in the version known as Drowned Baby, on the other hand, the cloth is somewhat looser, so that the resultant surface is agreeably glutinous. Plum duff is much the same, but prunes, sultanas or even dates take the place of currants (when it is made with raisins it is known as figgy-dowdy in the West of England). Then there is roly-poly, in which the dough or paste is rolled out, spread with jam and rolled up again before being put into its cloth and boiled; and to this day a square in Lisbon is called after it, because the elegant paving has much the same pattern.

Other sweet dishes sometimes reach the table at the end of the meal, and by extension they too are called puddings; but although there are respectable tarts, pies and preparations based on rice, most of the custards, sillabubs, flummeries and other kickshaws do not deserve the name at all, which should be reserved for nobler objects altogether, the true heroes’ delight.

Note that O’Brian describes the pudding as being boiled.  This, to be sure, is not completely necessary.  Steamed puddings are perfectly acceptable; perhaps my favorite pudding, the Sussex Pond, is steamed and I think would be hard to produce by boiling it.

What is not in question–or shouldn’t be–is suet.  Pudding is indeed the happy marriage of flour, sugar and the particularly pure beef fat loaded in around the kidneys of contented and well-fed cattle.  This is a very fine shortening, and nothing can really be used as a substitute.  If you doubt this, read this article from The Daily Telegraph. (It was really quite amazing to me that of four “traditional” Christmas pudding recipes tried by the author, the only one calling for suet was from the 1840′s…things are worse in England than I thought.)

The result of this marriage of suet and flour is a kind of cake; but a cake made without leavening, and unlike other kinds of cake actually moist and delicious.  Face it, cakes are usually a disappointment.  Puddings rarely are.

As O’Brian describes, the varieties of pudding are sometimes just a question of a slight change in preparation, or a change of ingredient.  These slight alterations can however make quite a difference, and the result is that the number of possible puddings can be quite dizzying, given also that those variations are also sometimes dependent on regional traditions.  An old website at W.W. Norton promoting a cookbook featuring many of the foods described in O’Brian’s novels, a fantastic work of culinary history bearing the still more fantastic title Lobscouse and Spotted Dog:  Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels, offers a few useful pictures to show the difference between various pudding constructions.

How pudding vanished from American cooking is something I can’t yet adequately explain, but here’s my best guess.  I suspect that it fell away as American middle-class homes all began to have a bake oven. In the eighteenth century, just about all common cooking was done over an open fire, over which things were either boiled or roasted. (For the essential part of this story see More Work for Mother:  The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave.) People ate a lot of stew.  And roasted meat.  And boiled meat.  And puddings, legendarily boiled in the same pot as the Sunday joint of beef. Though, perhaps, those puddings were O’Brian’s aforementioned herb puddings.  Keen as I am on puddings, I do not think that a spotted dog done in beef broth would be quite the thing.

Good wood-burning stoves made bake ovens within reach of the middle class, and early industrial chemistry soon provided cooks with leavenings other than yeast, viz., baking soda and baking powder by the end of the nineteenth century.  With those ingredients there was no particular reason why puddings should remain in American cookery. Finally, I also suspect that puddings had a certain specificity to English ethnicity that was overwhelmed by other immigrant cultures in the United States.  I mean, why should the Germans learn how to make puddings?  Don’t they already have enough dessert?

But thank goodness that the English stubbornly held onto the pudding.  True, even in England it has become threatened if not endangered–witness the failure to use suet discussed above.  But there are, as one might expect, centers of resistance from which puddings might yet again burst forth to save England in her time of peril. In the meantime, study, go to school on puddings, consult WikiPudia, and make your own.  True, you might have some difficulty in finding an actual butcher who knows what kidneys are, let alone suet.  But the end result is well worth it.

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A bit larger than you can conveniently boil at home

DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe ;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box (for show).

The holly hitherto did sway ;
Let box now domineer
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew ;
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside ;
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments
To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift ; each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

–Robert Herrick

Rocky, Part One

Not exactly how it happened

Surely it must have been a hot, bright day: it is hard to imagine it being cloudy and drizzly.  From the sound of the story, it was just the twelve of them and Him.  They had been travelling through the hills north of Capernaum and were now coming “into the district of Caesarea Phillipi,” which all good Jews had recognized as a nest of idolatry since it had been a center of Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom and which now had taken up the cult of the god Pan.

So, on one hand, it was not the most propitious place to ask The Question.  As Matthew recounts it, Jesus begins by asking, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  It’s clear from the answers that he is in effect asking them, “who do the people of Israel think is going to be sent by God to rescue them from their distress?”  The answers turn out to be one of the prophets, come back again to—maybe this time—actually get the people of Israel to listen to him and restore them to their glory.

Then came The Question:  “Who do you say that I am?”

What Peter said, according to Mark’s account, was what all the apostles wanted to say.  So Peter said it for them, filling in that awkward, shuffling pause, in which everyone waits for someone else to say what they want to say, but can’t make their lips say.  And what Peter said he not only says for the apostles who were there, he says for us.  That is also our confession being said by the Galilean fisherman.

When we celebrate the Confession of St. Peter, we don’t celebrate or remember Peter’s life—we have his own feast day on which to do that—but the words he spoke.  More importantly, we celebrate again He who asked The Question, and who is the Answer.

In the church year, it’s very appropriate that we celebrate the Confession of St. Peter at this point, in the season of Epiphany.  We have all sorts of questions, to most of which we want to provide our own answers.  In Jesus we find a Lord who ia both Question and Answer at one and the same time.

Rock on!

This is one of those heady, doctrinal feast days of the church that does not seem to have attracted much in the way of bodily feasting—perhaps because it was the Anglicans who first celebrated it after the Middle Ages had passed.  Lest we make this some sort of heady, nerdy, intellectualoid commemoration, let us attach food to it. Given its Anglican origins, and that Simon (“Sandy”) is for his confession rechristened Peter (“Rocky”), it seems very appropriate to whip up a batch of English rock cakes.  Enjoy them with tea, conversation, and perhaps some confession.

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